Balancing research, work and family

I was at a postgraduate conference over the weekend and one of the external students asked about how people managed to do postgraduate studies whilst working full time. Last night, I didn’t get much sleep, so I’ve been feeling tired and I started to reflect on my work/research habits. This is what I came up with:

  • I am not a morning person, so I quickly begin to resent any activity that requires me to get out of bed much before 7 am. Therefore, setting an alarm so I could get up at 5.30 am to write would not be an option for me for more than a very short period of time, in a crisis.
  • I am quite happy to stay up late, but I find that there are some things I can’t do late at night (or when I’m sleep deprived).
    • I can’t do detailed textual analysis much after I’ve eaten my evening meal – especially if it requires me to work in Coptic
    • By about 9 pm, I am also past doing much in the way of creative new writing of any kind but can still write down things I’ve been thinking about earlier in the day for editing later
    • I can, however, proofread, check references and edit much later than this, although a time will come when I realise that I am skim-reading rather than checking for detail and I need to draw a line through the text and come back to it the next day.
    • I can file, staple and generally organise paper quite late into the evening.
    • I can also find and download references, export the citations into Endnote and even print paper copies if my laptop is talking to the printer at home.
    • I can play solitaire and contemplate what I’m going to write next when I am quite tired, but I need to make notes because my recall of my brilliant ideas won’t be as good if I’m tired.
  • FWIW, I also find that if I go to the gym after my evening meal, I can’t walk on a treadmill or ride an exercise bike as far or as fast as I can during the day.

So, I try as far as I can to match the research-related task that I am doing to the time of day and my energy levels. I do most of my text work in the mornings on the weekends and most of my sorting and filing of paperwork late in the evenings (or in front of TV, during the ad breaks). Fortunately, my job is such that I can do research-related work during the day sometimes, because I do work-related tasks in the evenings and on weekends.

Cleaning the bathroom is one of my agreed tasks around the house. Visitors to our home might well notice that our shower recess isn’t as clean and sparkly as it might be since I enrolled as a postgrad student. If they pointed this out, I would strike them from my list of friends immediately. 🙂

Also, of course, I am not doing coursework, so I can fit my research in around my work commitments, rather than having to meet assessment deadlines. And I have a supportive husband, so the clothes and the dishes always get done. I have also discovered that lots of the casserole base sauces you can buy in bottles don’t taste too bad if you don’t have them too often and curries made from bottled pastes taste almost as good as those you make from scratch.

My family tell me that burritos from a kit aren’t as nice as home made enchiladas. I figure if they’re that desperate, they can all read the recipe book. However, when one child turns to the other when I come through the door and says “Who do you think this person is? She looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t quite place her,” I know it’s time to reorganise my commitments to spend more time at home but not in the study.

So far, I’m tracking reasonably well on my thesis timeline, so maybe I’m doing something right.


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